The Just Educator
~ by Joanne Schinstock
In the well-known story of the Prodigal Son, a son asks for his inheritance and then rejects his father by leaving home to waste it all. He is impious, but in an act of justice, he receives what is owed him– the slop with the pigs. Then he remembers his home and returns begging for forgiveness. When he returns, his father shows him mercy. In this sense the Prodigal Son is now a justly redeemed man giving to his earthly father his due– reverence and respect. The son has become a pious man. What should not be glossed over in this parable is the other son’s reaction to his brother’s return. “He became angry and when he refused to enter the house…[h]e said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends” (Luke 15:28-29). The angry son in this moment doesn’t realize that his father already honors what is his due because the father never withheld from him his inheritance either; the son could benefit at any time from his father’s wealth. In this moment, the son needed to be reminded of his father’s love and taught what was also due the other son. The father says, “but now your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” In this moment, we see the angry brother must give to his brother what is due, which is forgiveness and mercy.
This parable is rich in demonstrating to parents and educators the central role justice plays in training the intellect and shaping affections. The father, as mentor and teacher for his children, restores justice by giving to each what is due in that moment—one needed mercy and forgiveness and the other a loving redirection and reminder of his own inheritance. If justice had not been restored in this parable, we could easily rewrite this narrative to show a broken family. Namely, brothers who no longer speak and chaos in the heart of the father suffering for his decision to disown the son who wasted his inheritance. Injustice would have disordered this family.
Like the father who is a just man and trains his sons well, Christian classical educators seek to support families to educate children to be just. Classical Christian educators are interested in human flourishing and think deeply about justice: What is it? How can we foster it in class? How can we model the virtue for our students and support families? When exploring this question of how to foster it, one should make her way first to the virtue of piety. Piety is a companion of justice. Josef Pieper in The Four Cardinal Virtues reiterates ideas from Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas when he says that, “piety is annexed to justice” (108). Classical Christian education done well cultivates piety so that children grow to be people who acknowledge “the Creator in His Absoluteness [as] the ultimate foundation for the inalienability of man’s rights” so that truth abounds and justice reigns (52). The pious soul is humble over a debt he can never fully repay for the goodness of God. For the parent and teacher who model piety for the child, it is the pious child whose affections are rightly ordered to love what should be loved and to reject what is false.
As Christians we understand that man’s due comes from the inalienable rights that are bestowed upon him at his conception. Classical education aims to honor the nature of the child through appropriate pedagogy and curricula. How is classical Christian education the most just form of education? It is soul-focused and educates the whole child to adore what is true, good, and beautiful about God and His creation. Learning is integrated, linking intellectual virtues through conversation, play, and prayer that is communal. God made man to be in community with others, and so classical pedagogy honors that characteristic. Educators determine their activities, assignments, and expectations to cultivate scholars who flourish when learning and playing according to their nature. And why seek the most just form of education? To liberate the mind, cultivate the spirit, and shape humans to live well now and in the next life. Students educated well in the classical tradition are ready for any vocation and service to their community at the worldly level, and at the spiritual level they know that education is for training the mind and heart to know and love what glorifies God and profits humanity. The classically educated student recognizes his own dignity and those of others because this soul-focused education is for everyone.
Christian classical education shapes the child to be pious and to recognize justice as what is due to others. As in the case of the Prodigal Son, the father teaches his sons how to bestow justice by modeling it. Dr. Christopher Perrin, CEO of Classical Academic Press, once said that the portrait of a graduate is a student with a liberated mind and a cultivated and grateful soul ready for service. Like the father in the parable, teachers and parents shape the child in the way they model and confer justice in the classroom and at home. Just and pious men and women are connected to truth and can pass the culture on to the children who will restore human civilization where justice can thrive.
Joanne has been an educator since 2005, with a Master in Humanities from the University of Dallas. As principal, she supervises the promotion, development, and operations of Scholé Academy, building a community that supports students and parents striving for restful classical education.